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January 30, 2020

The Last Full Measure (2019) --- “The Ultimate Sacrifice Deserves The Highest Honor.”


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     Directed and written by Todd Robinson (Phantom, Chicago PD), The Last Full Measure (2020) tells the true story of  Vietnam War hero William H. Pitsenbarger (Jeremy Irvine), a U.S. Air Force Pararescuemen (PJ) medic who personally saved over dozens of men under heavy fire during a rescue mission on April 11, 1966. Although he was offered the chance to escape on the last helicopter out of a combat zone, he chose to stay behind to save and defend the lives of the U.S. Army's 1st Infantry Division, before making the ultimate sacrifice in the bloodiest battle of the Vietnam war. 32 years later, disinterested Pentagon staffer Scott Huffman (Sebastien Stan) is on a career fast-track when he is ordered to investigate a previously denied Congressional Medal of Honor request for Pitsenbarger made by his parents (Christopher Plummer & Diane Ladd), his PJ partner (William Hurt), and the soldiers he saved, which was denied decades prior and downgraded to an Air Force Cross. As part of his investigation, Huffman seeks out the testimonies of the veterans (Samuel L. Jackson, Peter Fonda, and Ed Harris) who witnessed Pitsenbarger's extraordinary valor, despite the fact that he would rather be doing anything else. But as he learns more about Pitsenbarger’s courageous acts and uncovers a high-level conspiracy behind the decades-long denial of the medal, Huffman starts to take his job more seriously and becomes hell-bent on seeing Pitsenbarger awarded the decoration he so desperately deserves, putting his own career on the line in the process.
     The Last Full Measure is a full-throated, misty-eyed celebration of heroism that isn’t far removed from attending a military funeral because it inspires the same kind of emotions from its audience. Although making that sentiment compelling for two hours is a tall order, this is a solid and mournful drama that garners the viewer’s respect and admiration for Pitsenbarger, whose entire life gets reduced to a single act of uncomplicated nobility. This is why heroism is both complicated and simple, it usually requires a great sacrifice that is sometimes never intended to be repaid. The recurring flashback scenes to the rescue mission where Pitsenbarger was killed are raw and gritty, serving their purpose of depicting him as an angel of mercy during a time of hell, while the present-tense scenes, which take place in the late 90’s, lean heavily on emotional speeches about the kind of man Pitsenbarger was. Now keep in mind that this film is based on a true story, that doesn’t mean that it is entirely accurate and some of the present scenes are fictional. However, considering that facts and the difficult subject matter that the filmmakers were tasked with, I can understand why they made the changes they did in order to make a more audience-pleasing film. If you are interested then I recommend that you check out The Last Full Measure: Fact vs. Fiction to find out more.
     Sebastian Stan (Avengers: Endgame) is solid action and his performance as a composite character, Scott Huffman, is pretty good. At first, he appears to be one-dimensional and disinterested with everything, even his family, but as he slowly starts to understand the extent of Pitsenbarger’s heroism and how it has impacted others he starts to become a more endearing character to watch. As always, Christopher Plummer (Knives Out) does a great job as Frank Pitsenbarger and his speech about what it truly means to be a parent is heartfelt and meant to inspire Huffman to be a more present dad in his kids’ lives. This is a surprisingly gentle performance for Plummer, who prefers thornier roles, and I believe that he easily evokes the necessary warmth and kindness needed for the role. William Hurt (Goliath) as Tully, Ed Harris (Geostorm) as Ray Mott, Samuel L. Jackson (Spider-Man: Far From Home) as Takoda, and the late Peter Fonda (The Most Hated Woman in America) as Jimmy Burr all deliver outstanding performances that demonstrate how war affects people and what they do in order to cope with the aftermath of war. Bradley Whitford (The Call of the Wild) is great as the film’s antagonist, Carlton Stanton, the beautiful Alison Sudol (Fantastic Beasts as Queenie) as Tara Huffman helps remind us that Huffman is not completely a dispassionate heartless person, and Jeremy Irvine (The Billionaire Boys Club) was splendid as William Pitsenbarger
     Overall, The Last Full Measure (2020) is an entertaining drama about honor the service and sacrifice of those who fight for our freedom. Of course, Vietnam was a senseless and unnecessary war, and that is what makes Pitsenbarger’s story that much more heartbreaking. The story here is great and while it also subjects to fictionalization in order to be more pleasing to audiences, it does offer insight into what could have happened given certain circumstances. The cast performance was pretty solid despite the number of well-known actors on the roster sheet. This film is about respect, honor, sacrifice, and legacy, if you are a fan of any of those themes then I highly recommend that you check out this film.

Final Vote --- 8.2 of 10 stars

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January 28, 2020

Richard Jewell (2019) --- “A Great Cast Shines In Clint Eastwood’s Drama About Heroes Under Suspicion.”

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     During the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia, security guard Richard Jewell (Paul Walter Hauser), who dreams of becoming a cop, is working security at a music festival in Centennial Park when he discovers a suspicious backpack under a bench near the music control tower. With little time to spare and not willing to take any chances, Richard helps evacuate as many people from the area as possible before the bomb explodes. Although he is hailed as a hero in the initial aftermath of the event, the law enforcement wannabe reaches out to his old friend Watson Bryant (Sam Rockwell), an independent and anti-establishment attorney, to represent him when he became the FBI’s (Jon Hamm) number one suspect and the media (Olivia Wilde) falsely reports him as a terrorist. But Bryant soon discovers that he is out of his depth when he has to fight the combined powers of the FBI, GBI, and APD to clear his client’s name, while also preventing Richard from trusting the very people trying to destroy him. Directed by Clint Eastwood (The Mule) and written by Billy Ray (Terminator: Dark Fate, Gemini Man), Richard Jewell (2019) is a biographical drama based on the 1997 Vanity Fair article "American Nightmare: The Ballad of Richard Jewell" by Marie Brenner
     At 89 years old, Clint Eastwood has transitioned from playing the dual role of actor & director to primarily staying behind the camera and he has become increasingly fascinated with real-life subjects and has, additionally, been interested in dissecting the concept of heroism and villainy, whether it be fictional or reality-based. In Richard Jewell, Eastwood returns to these themes by examining the titular character experience a rollercoaster ride of transformation from being society's hero to being their villain. Apart from saving lives, Jewell is not a very compelling muse for a box office hit, but the campaign mounted on him by the FBI and the media is. The film shows how Jewell became the center of attention first for saving lives and then later for fitting in with the FBI’s profile description of the likely assailant. And while he was never formally charged he was harassed and demonized by law enforcement and the media. The feeding frenzy that surrounded his story nearly killed him as well as traumatized his mother, and Eastwood depicts this in a manner that is irate and furious but without going off the rails.
     The film takes the unusual approach of casting the media and law enforcement as the antagonists because Eastwood wanted to illustrate the power wielded by both agencies and how sometimes they abuse those powers when they come to a conclusion that is not entirely truthful. Yes, the First Amendment is the First Amendment, people have the right to express free speech but people should also be held responsible for the irresponsibility of the tone used when telling a story. This is not the first time that the media has falsely accused someone of being someone that they were not, and it was definitely not the last time. The film shows how one rumor, one piece of false information printed in a newspaper can destroy a person’s life in a way that is almost impossible to fix. Additionally, the film shows how when overzealous government agency are given too much freedom in an investigation can be ruled by personal biases rather than studying the evidence. As far as I am concerned, they saw Jewell as an easy way out and even when the evidence said otherwise, they simply adjusted their narrative in order to fit the conviction that they wanted; it was coercion at its fullest. And while some might see Richard Jewell for the political film that it is, it is also undoubtedly a David vs. Goliath story that I am sure many people can relate to today. 
      Eastwood has been known for having a complex conception of heroism and villainy, that he clearly believes in good and evil, and here he proves once again that he is one of the few directors who has the guts to be raw and unapologetic in depicting the bad characters as being unapologetically bad. Jon Hamm (Good Omens, SNL) represents law enforcement by portraying the composite character Agent Tom Shaw and his performance is incredible. He demonstrates how his character is seething with resentment for the bomb going off on his watch and makes Jewell the target of his rage. He’s stubborn and unrelenting, and even when he knows that he has no evidence for a conviction, his ego and rage prevent him from admitting he’s wrong. Olivia Wilde’s (Life Itself) portrayal of the aggressive and callous reporter, Kathy Scruggs is eye-opening. She portrays her as a scoop machine who justifies her actions because she believes that she’s got something to prove simply because she is a woman in a largely male newsroom. But having reasons and ambitions doesn’t always make you right, and while Hamm’s character fails to evolve beyond his preconceived beliefs, Wilde’s character does evolve. Although she was a bit cringe-worthy to watch throughout most of the film, she ends up redeeming herself by the end when she figures out that Jewell is innocent and expresses remorse for destroying a man’s life with false accusations. Kathy Bates (Netflix’s The Highwayman) as Richard's mother Bobi and Nina Arianda (Goliath, Billions) as Watson Bryant's paralegal, Nadya, provide two of the strongest supporting roles throughout the whole film. Bates starts out as a loving and simple mother to Richard, but her press conference captures the emotional turmoil of character in a new light, while Arianda brings some warmth and welcome sarcasm with her performance. Paul Walter Hauser (I, Tonya, Late Night) is spot-on as the idiosyncratic Richard Jewell and Sam Rockwell (Jojo Rabbit) is perfect as the sarcastic Watson Bryant, and together the pair deliver some interesting and heartfelt moments that allow for them to play off of each other’s strengths. 

     Overall, Richard Jewell (2019) is a David vs. Goliath story mixed in with some political themes that make for an interesting and entertaining film. Clint Eastwood has been known for creating films that are raw and unapologetic in their story. Of the many things that this film touches on here is what people should take away from it: people have the right to express free speech but there are consequences to our actions, and people should be held responsible for what they do, especially when it has a direct negative impact on someone’s life. Just because you don’t agree with something doesn’t always mean that it’s right or wrong, at the end of the day the truth will speak for itself. I highly recommend that you watch this film and come to your own opinion, at the very least it will be entertaining and thought-provoking.

Final Vote --- 8 of 10 stars

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January 24, 2020

Dolittle (2020) --- “He's Not Exactly A People Person.”


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     After losing his wife (Kasia Smutniak) several years earlier, the eccentric and famed veterinarian, Dr. John Dolittle (Robert Downey Jr.) of Queen Victoria's (Jessie Buckley) England, hermits himself away behind the high walls of Dolittle Manor with only his menagerie of exotic animals for company. But when Tommy Stubbins (Harry Collett) appears at his front door with an injured squirrel and Lady Rose (Carmel Laniado) brings news that the young queen falls gravely ill, the reluctant and reclusive Dr. Dolittle must embark on an epic adventure to a mythical island in search of a cure. Accompanied by Stubbins and a troop of animal friends (Rami Malek, Octavia Spencer, Kumail Nanjiani, John Cena, and Emma Thompson), Dolittle crosses paths with old adversaries (Antonio Banderas and Michael Sheen), discovers wondrous creatures, and finds courage along the way. Will Dolittle and his friends succeed in saving the Queen or will they be too late? Directed by Stephen Gaghan (Gold), co-written alongside Dan Gregor (Crazy Ex-Girlfriend), Doug Mand (How I Met Your Mother), Chris McKay (Robot Chicken series), and Thomas Shepherd, Dolittle (2020) is primarily inspired by Hugh Lofting’s 1922 children’s novel The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle.
     In contrast to the beloved 1998 comedy starring Eddie Murphy, this Dolittle takes greater influence from its source material and the 1967 musical starring Rex Harrison that bombed box offices. Fashioning the film as a fairy-tale, director Gaghan uses animation to impart the eccentric physician’s backstory and what circumstances have led him to this point in life. Next, we are given quick introductions of certain characters and then thrust immediately into the adventure. It is a charming, humorous, and cute big-budget family film featuring one of the highest-paid actors of our time, loads of animated animals, and a supporting voice cast comprised of some notable and famous celebrities, and yet the story is too scattered and small to be taken seriously as a massive fantasy adventure. One opportunity that I believe the writers missed out on was how they tackled the Lady Rose’s character. 
     The story quite clearly paints the message that boys go on adventures while girls wait at home twiddling their thumbs. Considering how Lady Rose is portrayed in this film, there was simply no need for her to be in the film, except as a porcelain doll dressed in frills. Not much is given to her backstory and while most might assume that she is the Queen’s daughter, it doesn’t become clear until near the end that she is actually one of the Queen’s closest ladies-in-waiting. The writers could have made her Dolittle’s aspiring apprentice and a figurative reincarnation of his late wife’s brave and adventurous spirit. She could have been the driving force that Dolittle needed to return to the human world and put the past behind, continuing the legacy he and his wife started. But alas that never happened and I will be wondering what could have been if only the writers had taken a different and more modern approach. 
     The cast performances were surprisingly good, both from the live-action cast and the voice actors. The story relies heavily on contrasting characters like Kumail Nanjiani (Stuber, Lovebirds) as the cynical ostrich Plimpton and John Cena (Playing with Fire) as the upbeat polar bear Yoshi, who are constantly trading insults about each other’s appearances and abilities. Also, used as comic relief is Rami Malek (No Time To Die) as the anxious and cowardly gorilla Chee-Chee, who is similar to the Cowardly Lion from the Wizard of Oz, and Octavia Spencer (Ma!, Onward) as the enthusiastic but bird-brained duck Dab-Dab, who has a prosthetic webbed-foot. Emma Thompson (2021 Cruella) is perfect as the headstrong parrot, who serves as the film’s narrator and Dolittle's most trusted advisor. The villains - Antonio Banderas (The Laundromat) as the Pirate King, Rassouli, and Michael Sheen (Good Omens) as Dolittle’s old schoolmate rival, Dr. Blair M├╝dfly - were good for kids but lackluster for adults. Also worth mentioning are Harry Collett (Dunkirk), Carmel Laniado (A Christmas Carol mini-series), Craig Robinson (Hot Tub Time Machine), Tom Holland (Spies in Disguise, Spider-Man: Far From Home), Ralph Fiennes (The King’s Man), Selena Gomez (Hotel Transylvania), Marion Cotillard (Allied), Jason Mantzoukas (HBO’s Dickenson), Frances de la Tour (The Collection, Into the Woods), and Kasia Smutniak (From Paris with Love).
However, while all of these characters are good and descent in their respective roles, there are too many characters with too many narratives trying to take the lead. So, in order to try and combat this issue, the story lies most of its pressure on Robert Downey Jr.’s (Sherlock Holmes 3) shoulders, relying upon his portrayal of Dr. John Dolittle to pull the multiple narratives together into a more direct narrative. Although I wish some of the other characters had the chance to develop compelling arcs, Dolittle’s character arc and accompanied backstory demonstrate the debilitating effects that grief can have on an individual. Oddly the issue I find with his character is his accent, which slips between Scottish, Welsh, and English. For an American actor who has portrayed both Charlie Chaplin and Sherlock Holmes, it seems rather difficult for me to say that he might have dropped the ball a couple times here. Nonetheless, he still does a pretty good job as Dolittle and proves that despite playing one of the most iconic characters of the MCU for the last 10 plus years, he still has the talent and skills to do other work. On a side note, it was pretty interesting to see him switch between animal languages when talking to the different animals. This made it more relatable and believable for the audience.
     Overall, Dolittle (2020) is a fun and charming family-film that fails to be a massive fantasy adventure but is no less entertaining. The filmmakers had a lot of ideas that they wanted to utilize, they just needed a better way of directing and focusing all of their ideas into a more cohesive story. The story was good and carried its fair share of humor but the writers also missed out on an opportunity to make a Victorian-set story just a little bit more modern. The cast performance both live-action and voice-overs were good and funny but they also deserved to have better character arcs then what they were given. And while Robert Downey Jr. may be one of Hollywood’s highest-paid actors as of 2020, the story should not solely rely upon his character arc to carry the story. Nevertheless, this is still an entertaining family film that the whole family will enjoy.

Final Vote --- 7.2 of 10 stars

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January 22, 2020

Bad Boys For Life (2020) --- “One Last Ride?"


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     When Isabel Aretas (Kate del Castillo), the wife of a deceased drug lord, escapes from prison in Mexico, she sets out to avenge the death of her husband by ordering the assassination of everyone involved with his capture and incarceration. She sends her son Armando (Jacob Scipio) to Miami to put her plan into action and insists that Mike is saved for last. Now old-school detectives Mike Lowrey (Will Smith) and Marcus Burnett (Martin Lawrence) must team up with the newly created elite team AMMO led by Rita (Paola Nunez), in order to take down Isabel Aretas before it’s too late. Directed by Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah, also known as Abdil & Bilall (Gangsta), and written Chris Bremner (National Treasure 3, Bad Boys 4), Peter Craig (Top Gun: Maverick), and Joe Carnahan (Death Wish), and produced by Jerry Bruckheimer (Bad  Boys franchise), Bad Boys For Life (2020) is the third installment in the Bad Boys action-comedy franchise.
     Bad For Life is the long-awaited sequel to the Bad Boys series and while it’s been 17 years since Bad Boys II (2003), this has to be one of the franchise’s best films. This is the first installment in the franchise that has not been directed by Michael Bay and for that, it does all the better. Not to say that Bay is a bad director but his directing style is very obvious and in some cases can be a bit much for some films. The main characters have great chemistry together but the way that Bay directs them makes you forget about that because their too loud and over the top. This film tries to emulate Bay’s style of action but with a bit more finesse that makes the film more coherent. The screenwriters found ways to explore Mike and Marcus both in their personalities and relationships, which is something that was not present or severely lacking in the last two films. We get better backstories of their characters and this allows them to have more depth and thus allowing the audience to connect with them better. Mike’s backstory is more central to the storyline because it’s someone from his past that is leaving a trail of bodies in their wake, and we can see how that affects him the most. Not to mention he is having a full-blown mid-life crisis and having to deal with Marcus potentially retiring after 25 years on the force. All in all, this was a fun action-packed comedy that provided more character depth and less mindless action to produce a well-rounded story that was well worth the wait.
     The cast performances were great all around. Will Smith (Gemini Man) and Martin Lawrence (Martin, Big Momma’s House) are great in delivering their characters and since the story offers more character depth, they are given the chance to explore their character’s more. Joe Pantoliano (Memento, The Matrix) returns as the overreacting Captain Howard that provides his fair share of comic relief. Paola Nunez (The Son TV series, The Purge TV series) as Rita is stunning and she manages to play this type of role without being corny. She adds her own mix of humor throughout and her action sequences prove that she is more than capable to protect herself. Alexander Ludwig (Vikings, Midway) as Dorn, Vanessa Hudgens (Drunken History, The Knight Before Christmas) as Kelly and Charles Melton (Riverdale) as Rafe were all good in their respective roles. However, Ludwig proves to be a scene-stealer as the big man-mountain who is against violence and prefers to stay in the safety of the truck. Hudgens does accomplish what she needs to but she isn’t given much room to expand, and Melton tries but ultimately remains in the background as a forgettable character. The villains are very much secondary supporting characters but the writers do some interesting things with their character arcs. Kate del Catillo (The 33, The Book of Life) brings the seductive figure, while Jacob Scipio (We Die Young) brings the cold-eyed assassin. On a side note, while this film was not helmed by Michael Bay the directors did provide an easter egg by having Bay play the Wedding MC at Marcus’ daughter’s wedding.

     Overall, Bad Boys For Life (2020) is a good action-comedy that has a lot of fun humor and a surprising amount of character depth, and it is all thanks to the new directors who have given this film a fresh new look Not even the 17 years hiatus can stop this film from being the best in the franchise and I could easily see this film topping Dolittle at the box office. I highly recommend this film, especially if you are a fan of the series or the main actors Smith and Lawrence.

Final Vote --- 7.5 of 10 stars

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